bend. Welch slowed slightly, thus ensuring that they would still be next to the van when the bus reached them, and said with decision: 'Well, that ought to do it nicely, I should say.'

Before Dixon could roll himself into a ball or even take off his glasses, the van had braked and disappeared, the bus-driver, his mouth opening and shutting vigorously, had somehow squirmed his vehicle against the far wall, and, with an echoing rattle, the car darted forward on to the straight. Dixon, though on the whole glad at this escape, felt at the same time that the conversation would have been appropriately rounded off by Welch's death. He felt this more keenly when Welch went on: 'If I were you, Dixon, I should take all the steps I possibly could to get this article accepted in the next month or so. I mean, I haven't the specialized knowledge to judge…' His voice quickened: 'I can't tell, can I? what it's worth. It's no use anybody coming to me and asking 'What's young Dixon's stuff like?' unless I can give them an expert opinion of what it's worth, is it now? But an acceptance by a learned journal would… would… You, well you don't know what it's worth yourself, how can you?'

Dixon felt that, on the contrary, he had a good idea of what his article was worth from several points of view. From one of these, the thing's worth could be expressed in one short hyphenated indecency; from another, it was worth the amount of frenzied fact-grubbing and fanatical boredom that had gone into it; from yet another, it was worthy of its aim, the removal of the 'bad impression' he'd so far made in the College and in his Department. But he said: 'No, of course not, Professor.'

'And you see, Faulkner, it's rather important to you that it should turn out to be worth something, if you see what I mean.'

Despite being wrongfully addressed (Faulkner had preceded him in his post), Dixon knew what Welch meant, and said so. How had he made his bad impression? The most likely thing, he always thought, was his having inflicted a superficial wound on the Professor of English in his first week. This man, a youngish ex-Fellow of a Cambridge college, had been standing on the front steps when Dixon, coming round the corner from the library, had kicked violently at a small round stone lying on the macadam. Before reaching the top of its trajectory it had struck the other just below the left kneecap at a distance of fifteen yards or more. Averting his head, Dixon had watched in terrified amazement; it had been useless to run, as the nearest cover was far beyond reach. At the moment of impact he'd turned and begun to walk down the drive, but knew well enough that he was the only visible entity capable of stone-propulsion. He looked back once and saw the Professor of English huddled up on one leg and looking at him. As always on such occasions, he'd wanted to apologize but had found, when it came to it, that he was too frightened to. He'd found the same when, two days later, he'd been passing behind the Registrar's chair at the first Faculty meeting, had stumbled and had knocked the chair aside just as the other man was sitting down. A warning shout from the Registrar's Clerk had averted complete disaster, but he could still remember the look on the face of that figure, stiffened in the shape of a letter S. Then there'd been that essay written for Welch by one of the Honours people, containing, in fact consisting of, abuse of a book on enclosures by, it transpired, one of Welch's own ex-pupils. 'I asked him who could possibly have filled his head with stuff like that, you see, and he said it was all out of one of your lectures, Dixon. Well, I told him as tactfully as I could…' Much later Dixon had found out that the book in question had been written at Welch's suggestion and, in part, under his advice. These facts had been there for all to read in the Acknowledgements, but Dixon, whose policy it was to read as little as possible of any given book, never bothered with these, and it had been Margaret who'd told him. That had been, as near as he could remember, on the morning before the evening when Margaret had tried to kill herself with sleeping-pills.

When Welch said in a far-away half-shout 'Oh, by the way, Dixon,' Dixon turned to him with real avidity. 'Yes, Professor?' How much better to have more of what Welch could provide than thoughts of what Margaret would provide - commodities which he would in any case soon be sampling in their real form.

'I've been wondering if you'd care to come over next week-end for the… week-end. I think it should be quite good fun. We're having a few people from London, you know, friends of ours and of my son Bertrand's. Bertrand's going to try and come himself, of course, but he doesn't know yet if he can get away. I expect we shall put on one or two little shows, little bits of music and that. We'll probably call on you to lend a hand with something.'

The car buzzed on along a clear road. 'Thank you very much, I should love to come,' Dixon said, thinking he must get Margaret to do some intelligence work on the something he'd probably be called upon to lend a hand with.

Welch seemed quite cheered by this ready acceptance. 'That's fine,' he said with apparent feeling. 'Now there's something on the academic side I'd like to discuss with you. I've been talking to the Principal about the College Open Week at the end of term. He wants the History Department to throw something into the pool, you see, and I've been wondering about you.'

'Oh, really?' Surely there were others better qualified to be thrown into the pool?

'Yes, I thought you might care to tackle the evening lecture the Department's going to provide, if you could.'

'Well, I would rather like to have a crack at a public lecture, if you think I'm capable of it,' Dixon managed to say.

'I thought something like 'Merrie England' might do as a subject. Not too academic, and not too… not too… Do you think you could get something together along those sort of lines?'


'AND then, just before I went under, I suddenly stopped caring. I'd been clutching the empty bottle like grim death, I remember, as if I were holding on to life, in a way. But quite soon I didn't in the least mind going; I felt too tired, somehow. And yet if someone had shaken me and said, 'Come on, you're not going, you're coming back,' I really believe I should have started trying to make the effort, trying to get back. But nobody did and so I just thought Oh well, here we go, it doesn't matter all that much. Curious sensation.' Margaret Peel, small, thin, and bespectacled, with bright make-up, glanced at Dixon with a half-smile. Around them was the grumble of half a dozen conversations.

'It's a good sign that you're able to talk about it like this,' he said. Since she made no reply, he went on: 'What happened afterwards, or can't you remember? Don't tell me if you'd rather not, of course.'

'No, I don't mind telling you if it won't bore you.' Her smile broadened a little. 'But didn't Wilson tell you about how he found me?'

'Wilson? Oh, the chap in the room underneath. Yes, he said about hearing your wireless booming away and coming up to complain. What made you leave it on like that?' The feelings aroused in him by the first part of Margaret's story had almost subsided now, and he was able to think more clearly.

She looked away across the half-empty bar. 'I don't really know, James,' she said. 'I think I had some idea about wanting to have some sort of noise going on while I was… going off. It seemed so horribly quiet in that room.' She gave a little shiver and said quickly: 'Bit chilly in here, isn't it?'

'We'll move if you like.'

'No, it's all right; just a bit of a draught with that chap coming in… Oh yes; afterwards. I think I grasped quite soon what was going on and where I was and all that. And what they were doing to me. I thought, Oh God, hours and hours of feeling ill and wretched, can I bear it? But of course I was passing out all the time, on and off; good thing, really, in the end. By the time I was fully, er, compos mentis again the worst was over, as far as feeling awful was concerned. I was terribly weak, naturally; well, you remember… But everybody was awfully sweet to me. I should have thought they'd got enough to deal with with people who were ill through no fault of their own. I remember being terrified they'd tell the police and get me carted off to a police hospital - are there such things, James? - but they were just angelic; they couldn't have been nicer. And then you came to see me and the horrible part all began to seem unreal. But you looked so terrible…' She leaned sideways on her bar-stool in laughter, her hands clasped round one knee, the quasi-velvet shoe falling away from her heel. 'You looked as if you'd been watching some frightful gruesome operation, white as a sheet and all… hollow-eyed…' She shook her head, still laughing quietly, and pulled her cardigan up over the shoulders of the green Paisley frock.

'Did I really?' Dixon asked her. He was relieved at this piece of news, to find that he'd looked as bad as he'd felt that morning; then he felt bad again now as he nerved himself to ask the last compulsory question. He half-

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